Switzerland Naturalization and Citizenship
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Swiss citizenship is kept on three levels: the nation, the canton, and the Heimatort, or home community. For most people, citizenship was inherited, and residency was not a requirement. Thus one or more generations of a citizen’s descendants may never even have seen their original home community. A burger and his descendants remained citizens of their Heimatort or Heimatgemeinde until one of them applied for and obtained citizenship in another town.
The home community was charged with keeping track of its citizens. Therefore, if a birth, marriage, or death of a citizen took place in another parish, notice of the event was often sent to the Heimatort. The information may have been entered in the regular parish register or a special section reserved for “auswärtige Bürger” [out-of-town citizens]. These sections are often identified in the FamilySearch Catalog.
The “Heimatschein” officially documented a citizen’s home community. When taking up residence in another town, the person presented his Heimatschein as proof of citizenship. In times of need the Heimatort was responsible for providing financial support. During the 18th and 19th Centuries the community sometimes paid for the overseas passage of poorer citizens.
It was also possible to become a Swiss citizen through naturalization. In that case, the citizens of the potential Heimatort often needed to give their consent before the new Buerger could be accepted into the community. Often the applicant had to pay a fairly high fee to obtain communal rights.
Register of Swiss Surnames
Because Swiss citizenship was time-consuming and costly to move, most kept their ancestral citizenship no matter where they moved. The Register of Swiss Surnames is a list of all surnames in Switzerland as of 1962 and where they held citizenship. This registry is invaluable in locating towns of origin.
To learn how to use the Register of Swiss Surnames, check out the "How to" Guide. First, read through the Instruction; Then test your knowledge with the short Assignment - the Answer Key is provided to check your answers.